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Listed below is the step by step procedure of chemotherapy:

  1. What is Chemotherapy?
  2. Why is Chemotherapy Required?
  3. Preparations for Chemotherapy
  4. How is Chemotherapy Drugs given
  5. Purpose of Chemotherapy Drugs
  6. Scheduling Sessions of Chemotherapy
  7. Team of Doctors and Specialists that conduct a Chemotherapy
  8. Precautions to be Taken After a Chemotherapy
  9. What are the Risks Associated with Chemotherapy

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy serves as a primary treatment measure for cancer. This therapy is conducted by using certain drugs to treat cancer. The main purpose of chemotherapy is to aim at destroying cancer cells or slowing down their growth process.

Cancer cells are known to grow faster than normal healthy cells. These cells grow as well as multiply rapidly forming tumors. Chemotherapy involves usage of certain drugs alone or in combination, to treat many types of cancers. These drugs target cancer cells and destroys them.

Why is Chemotherapy Required?

If you are undergoing chemotherapy, you must understand how is chemotherapy beneficial in treating your disease. The three main goals of chemotherapy can be explained further.

Cure: Most chemotherapies can cure an early stage of cancer disease. Chemotherapy is conducted to kill cancer cells completely from patient's body so that it does not reoccur.

Although, there is no assurance that the cure always works. It often takes years for some patients to cure completely.

Control: If curative measures of chemotherapy do not work on cancer patients, the next option can be controlling the cancer. So, your doctor conducts same treatment method serving a different purpose. Now, the focus of this therapy is on controlling the growth of cancer cells within your body so that it does not increase and spread further to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy can also shrink larger tumors so that they can be surgically removed. This can help patients to live longer.

Palliative Care: Another goal of chemotherapy is to relieve patients from the symptoms caused due to cancer. This process is referred as palliative chemotherapy. With advanced stages of cancer, patient's body faces a lot of problems that can neither be cured nor controlled. At such times, a palliative chemotherapy is found helpful in improving their quality of life. It relieves patients from certain symptoms like pain and helps them feel better. On an overall note, it helps improving patient's quality of life.

Pre-Operative Procedure

Before a chemotherapy appointment, your doctor will educate you with all the necessary instructions and guidelines. He/she will also enlighten you about the complete procedure of chemotherapy. Following are the necessary steps that can be required before chemotherapy:

  • Surgically inserting device intravenously

    Some chemotherapies are performed intravenously. So, if a patient is undergoing chemotherapy using this method, you may first require to insert a device into your veins. This device can either be a catheter, pump or a port. A surgery is conducted for implanting such device by selecting a large vein of your chest. Chemotherapy drugs are injected inside through this port.

  • Blood Tests

    Blood tests are performed to make sure whether your body can handle the heavy doses of chemo drugs. Blood tests like kidney function test, liver function test, and certain tests related to heart is performed to check if the body is ready for chemotherapy. If any problems is detected in these tests, your doctor can delay your treatment process. At such times, he/she can also select different chemotherapy or different dosage that can be safer for your body.

  • Discuss about side effects

    Discuss with your doctor regarding the side effects one must expect out of every chemo session. For example, one of the side effects of chemo is infertility. At such times, patients can preserve their sperm or eggs for future utilization. Patients may also experience lot of hair loss while undergoing chemotherapies.

  • Prepare for your treatment

    Ask your team of doctors about all the preparations you require before taking a chemotherapy session. Get proper rest before coming for a chemotherapy session. A chemotherapy treatment could cause nausea, hence, eating a light meal on the procedure day would be better for patients. Patients having a chemo session for the first time must have a friend or family member along with them to drive them back home. This is important because, chemotherapy can make the patients sleepy and could also cause other side effects.

Day Before Chemotherapy

There are many ways to administer chemotherapy drugs into the patients body. Give below are the various methods in which a chemotherapy can be conducted.

  • Chemotherapy Pills

    Chemotherapy given in the form of oral pills or capsules.

  • Chemotherapy Gels

    Chemotherapy drugs can also be in the form of creams or gels. Such drugs are mainly used for skin cancer patients during a chemotherapy session.

  • Direct administration at cancer site

    Chemo drugs can be directly given to the cancer site, either before or after the surgery. For example, a thin wafer like disc can be placed where the cancerous tumor is located. This disc consists of chemotherapy drugs. As time passes the disc gradually breaks down, dispensing these drugs. Another alternative includes injecting chemo drugs directly into the blood vessel that feeds the cancerous tumor.

  • Chemotherapy Infusions

    The most common method of administering chemotherapy drugs is by infusing them intravenously. This is done by inserting a tube with a thin needle into the vein of your arm. Sometimes, a device can be fitted into the vein of your chest for the same procedure.

  • Chemotherapy Shots

    A needle can be injected into your muscles for infusion of chemo drugs just like a shot.

  • Chemotherapy drugs used to treat specific section of the body

    Chemotherapy can be performed directly on only one specific section of your body. For example, chemotherapy directly given in the abdominal region (intraperitoneal chemotherapy), cavity of the chest (intrapleural chemotherapy), central nervous system (intrathecal chemotherapy) or urinary bladder (intravesical chemotherapy).

Purpose of Chemotherapy Drugs

Chemotherapy drugs are useful in many ways that includes:

  • Preventing division of cancer cells – These drugs are termed as cytotoxic drugs.
  • Targeting the source that feeds the cancer cells, for example cancer cells require sources like enzymes and hormones to grow.
  • Disallowing the growth of new blood vessels that supply a tumor, by stopping the process.
  • Triggering cancer cell suicide – Cell suicide is medically termed as apoptosis. Increased cell death leads to reduced number of active cancer cells.

Scheduling Sessions of Chemotherapy

Based on certain important aspects, your doctor decides about the number of session for your chemotherapy. These important aspects include the following:

  • Type of drugs used
  • Characteristics of your cancer
  • Recovery and healing time
  • How well your body recovers after each session
Every session of chemotherapy is a cycle that consists of two main parts, treatment part followed by the recovery part. The drug dosages of chemotherapy are so powerful that your body becomes weak. Therefore, after every session, a time gap is considered so that your body recovers completely and becomes ready to take next dosages of chemo drugs (if required). Every chemotherapy treatment session varies and hence they are scheduled accordingly.

Team of Doctors and Specialists that conduct a Chemotherapy

The team of doctor that conduct your chemotherapy depends where you are undergoing this treatment. It can be conducted in a hospital, a clinic, labs assisted with chemotherapy equipments, or at home. This is mostly an out-patient treatment.

Team of health care providers that conduct a chemotherapy treatment include the following:

  • A clinical oncologist : A doctor who is a cancer specialist but specializes in chemotherapy.
  • A nurse : A nurse who will be guiding the team.
  • A hematologist : A doctor specialized in study of blood and bone marrow.
  • A pathologist : A doctor specialized in identification of diseases by examining of cells and tissues under a microscope.
  • A psychologist : To guide the patient on how to handle the emotional and mental ordeal of chemotherapy.

Precautions to be Taken After a Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs are powerful and can have side effects along with beneficial effects. Most cancer patients receive chemo intravenously and are monitored by nurses who dispense drugs in your system. Some patients undergo a chemo at home through small pumps or in the form of pills given orally. Any route of administering chemotherapy drugs needs both patient and health care providers to be aware of the necessary safety precautions.

  • Personal Hygiene

    Within the first 48 hours of chemotherapy process usage of separate toilet can be a better option when you are undergoing this treatment. Frequently cleaning toilets after using it reduces the chances of accidental exposure to patient's body fluids among family members. While cleaning toilets, one should wear gloves for safety measures. Also, a thorough hand wash is important before you leave the washroom. In-case your body fluids come into contact with your skin, wash it immediately. Use disposable towels, gloves, etc., for cleaning or wiping.

    If any of your clothes are soiled with body fluids, they must be washed separately. Also, these clothes must be wash in hot water. Patient must not share food or drinks with any family members for at-least 2-3 days post chemotherapy process. Sharing of utensils should also be avoided.

  • Pregnancy Prevention

    Patients who have undergone a chemotherapy must avoid sexual activities for at-least the 48 hours post treatment. Prevent pregnancy during and also few months after the completion of your treatment. This preventive measure is very important because chemotherapy drugs could cause birth defects. Patients can discuss with their doctors about any issue during this period. If pregnancy occurs while undergoing the treatment, let your doctor know about it right away.

  • Preventing Infections

    Chemotherapy makes your body weak by reducing its ability to fight infections. Therefore, precautions can be taken to prevent infections. Patients undergoing chemotherapies must avoid meeting people who are sick and should not travel in crowded places. Washing your hand frequently and thoroughly prevents infections.

  • Other important measures

    Pregnant or breast-feeding women who are undergoing a chemotherapy must take extra precautions. A single exposure of chemotherapy can lead to many complications. Patients taking chemotherapies at home using pumps or mouth should follow additional safety precautions.

    Precautionary measure may avoid occurrence of many complications for the patients as well as people living in their vicinity. Hence, patients and doctors should not be strict about these precautions.

What are the Risks Associated with Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy involves heavy dosages of drugs. Hence, there are some significant side effects seen in patients who undergo this treatment. Different drugs can show different side effects.

Some of the common side effects caused due to chemo are as follows:

  • Nausea
  • Hair Loss
  • Feeling Tired
  • Nausea
  • Soring of mouth and throat
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Pain
  • Bruising

Your doctor will help you to deal with these side effects during your treatment period. Most of these side effects go away by the end of your treatment.

Doctor can conduct follow up appointments to check for signs and symptoms for these side effects. He/she will help you to overcome such issues.

To summarize the above information, chemotherapy is one of the necessary treatment option for a cancer patient. But, make sure before you take a chemotherapy, you know all the necessary details about every aspects of this treatment. Follow all the preventive measures, the do's and dont's of chemotherapy treatment. Your team of doctor can always guide you if you need any help during or after the treatments.

More information related to Chemotherapy
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